It’s been a year since our last public blog post. We’d like to provide you all with an update. Net – we found code problems, dramatically improved performance, have terrific beta customers and have more work to do to get Beta 4 out.
With Beta 3, we learned that this was really an Alpha level of code. While it was interesting for simple demo’s of the desktop and server side, it had a latent issue that turned out to be massive under the covers. We could do some interesting “party tricks” like run games on the desktop and some simple web serving. It really couldn’t be used to solve any customer problems. We discovered that we hadn’t adequately tested nor properly developed a large component of the x86 architecture. This affected close to 900 instructions. It was back to the drawing boards for us. During the first quarter of 2015, we completed that development effort and started testing to the point we felt pretty comfortable about our code again. On the positive side, we did learn that deployment and customization of both z/VM and z86VM weren’t that difficult and a system could be running in less than a day.
In parallel to this, we’ve been working on our performance paths so that we can get as near native to x86 hardware performance and support as many users per core as possible. We got an opportunity to stress test our code on IBM’s new z13 server, with and without the new multi threaded cores. The results were pretty amazing. We found the z13 to provide results that were 15x faster than our little z114, based on raw chip speed. We’ve done multiple tests in that environment and improved performance a couple of times since then. We are quite proud of the results. We think our guest to core ratio can be very competitive with x86 price performance. Since we aren’t done improving the code, we’ll describe that more at a later date when we are ready to actually sell our product.
We continue to be amazed at IBM’s z/VM hypervisor and it’s capability to support 1000’s of virtual guests. Just for fun, we did a benchmark with 1000 guests per core over 4 and 8 cores. That is probably several orders of magnitude beyond what an x86 server could do. Alas, it was just for amusement and not for production. While the system didn’t fail (very impressive), the end user performance was terrible. So as we go forward toward a sellable product, we’ll provide guidance as to a proper guest to core ratio based on a couple of different workload mixes.
We believe the next beta should actually deliver code that can solve problems for customers, so we get a true value for the customer and our own development experience. With that goal, we attempted to install the latest Ubuntu release that would enable commercial off the shelf middleware to be installed on top of it. We found another series of instruction bugs. When it comes to instruction addressing, there is a base register and code will run as a displacement off of that base. It seems we did all kinds of testing for positive displacements and totally missed negative displacements. So back to coding the fixes for that. That’s where we are today.
The important thing is, we continue to learn and improve our code. Our test suite covers many millions of variations across the x86 instruction set. We run those on x86 and compare the results on z86VM on System z. When we find differences, we diagnose and fix. The bugs we find highlight errors in our code and in our test coverage. We’ve been methodically updating the code and test suite, as a result.
Let me extend a gracious thank you to our current beta customers. There are presently 17 of them across 4 continents and a variety of industries. We’ve got another 25 interested parties that are either waiting for a hardware upgrade or our next beta delivery. We appreciate your interest and are committed to making a positive difference in your choice of IT deployment.
We’ve also established some new ISV partnerships that we hope can deliver value to you. While we’ve been focused on server consolidation and virtual desktop infrastructure, we are exploring some virtual mobile capabilities for Android applications. There seems to be no end to the possibilities as to the problems we should collectively be able to solve.
It’s been a long time bringing this dream of ours to reality. It’s taken a lot of energy and patience on our part to get this far. We feel very close to delivering on the next beta, but we are cognizant and appreciative of your time and energy too. We don’t want to waste either by delivering something we know won’t help you solve problems of your own. The best statement of our product goal is: Help businesses dramatically reduce IT expenses while improving the security and resilience of their workloads.
Customizing SME server to operate WordPress. When Beta 3 shipped, the SME 8.1 server included the LAMP Stack: Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP. It also included a pre-configured WordPress with a sample web page. By this time, we expect you’ve modified your IP address to start your SME system and have it network connected. Unfortunately, the WordPress options have a copy of the Mantissa based IP address. Follow the directions on this short document to update and display WordPress on your Beta copy. http://www.mantissa.com/mantissadotcom/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Wordpress.Sample.pdf
z86VM Customers – Please subscribe to the z86VM category. With any Beta, changes will occur. We’ve already encountered a few gotchas with Beta 3 that you should be aware of when installing and operating your systems. The z86VM category will be used to communicate any latest news to the Beta customers. We will not be posting those updates to the home page.
z86VM Beta 3 is shipping now. Come and get it. Go to our order page and get your copy….But we aren’t done either. Performance improvements, Capacity planning guidance, Benchmarking activities and more code exploitation examples are just some of the things we are working on toward making this a successful and viable product. We need your feedback to help us prioritize those activities. We are dedicated to helping you successfully get through installation and attempt to do proof of concepts of your own.
Following months of work in bug fixes and performance improvements, this beta ships with an updated Damn Small Linux client and an updated Small Medium Enterprise Linux Server. DSL 2012 and SME Server 8.1 include significant updates to their kernels as well as later levels of middleware. Mantissa’s efforts on z86VM are branching into two significant areas: 1. improvements in the z86VM code base 2. Identifying examples of how and where z86VM can be utilized to solve customer business problems. For example: With SME 8, usage of Apache, MySQL, PHP and WordPress are possible. Updates to Mantissa.com show how a business can leverage these capabilities, including cloning an existing WordPress site into this environment for demonstration purposes. There is still work to be done with z86VM before it’s ready for production. This work includes additional performance improvements, simplification of systems administration and usability improves that are intended to avoid system errors.
Most important with this Beta 3 is that Mantissa would like to get customer feedback on usage, exploitation and types of problems that might be solved by using z86VM. A set of exercises has been established that we hope customers might try to see if this helps their business operations.
z86VM Technical Presentation to the New York City chapter of NASPA on Tuesday, April 29th. This included a demonstration from my Macbook which included fourTN3270 sessions (Management console, I/O Server, two users), Virtual Network Connection to two DSL desktops and the SME command line and three web sites – the SME Server-manager, PHPmyadmin and a clone of the mantissa.com site. I also had an iPad that connected to those websites as well. We’ll find some time to make some additional youtube videos of the demos after Beta 3 ships. z86VM Technology Presentation
z86VM Beta 3 coming soon. We’ve made some significant improvements in instruction performance and file system operations. More importantly, we’ve spent time using the code. Our next distribution will include LAMP Stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) along with WordPress all running. For our own testing, we cloned this site, mantissa.com, and have it running on z86VM. We’re spending the time documenting things, updating manuals, updating use cases, we’ll document the effort to clone a wordpress site, etc so we can make this as easy for new users as possible. We’re targeting the beta to be out by the end of May, if not earlier.
Happy New Year! We envision many new possibilities for 2014. Most important, we’d like you to be part of the conversation. Adoption of our new website was intended to collect your feedback. But we neglected to allow you to register to share your voice. That’s fixed now. Registration is simple. Nothing scary about it and your privacy will be protected. We’d enjoy hearing from you about our current and future offerings, especially z86VM, which we see as a new future in large scale server computing.
What problems might z86VM solve? Some of our favorites are: hosting management consoles so z stands alone; web, file and email server; Post a comment and let us know what you’d like to see in your own environment.